Householders are working on the alternative technology we need.
ON Wednesday 19 September, at Swinburne University in Hawthorn, you’ll find sun-tracking louvers, a nifty clip that helps you protect tomatoes from hungry birds, and two people who’ve made their own solar air-heaters (one of them from aluminium cans).
The night’s organiser, and the convenor of the branch, Paul Fritze, says two-dozen people will briefly introduce their sustainability projects. Afterwards, they’ll exhibit what they’ve done, while everyone mingles and learns.
It’s a free event, supported by the School of Engineering at Swinburne University. “People who’ve been working away on their own can come along and display what they’re doing,” he says. “It’s about connecting ideas, skills and technology.
“Anything goes – there’s a permaculture food gardening course, a chap who builds battery packs for different uses by recycling old lithium batteries, and someone who’s been running a micro-hydro power generator for 30 years.”
Mr Fritze has been toiling at a number of schemes himself. With others, he’s planning a more permanent residence for the Melbourne branch, as well as the Association’s electric vehicle group and the Melbourne HackerSpace (a twice-weekly gathering of tech-hardware hobbyists), among others.
“The idea is to create a shared project space for different groups doing all sorts of things, where they can hold meetings, exhibitions and workshops, and come across one another,” he says.
It’ll be fitted out with technical equipment such as a laser cutter and a 3D-printer, which will allow people to experiment far beyond what’s possible in their own backyard.
Much like the project night, the idea is to generate cross-disciplinary projects. “We could get 3D-printer enthusiasts to team up with a jeweller, or someone working in disability who needs something built,” Mr Fritze says.
He says there’s “a whole swag of passionate doers” all over the city, constantly tinkering with new ways to make their gadgets more efficient and reduce their environmental impact.
“You couldn’t stop them if you tried,” he says. “And if you can provide a place for them to meet face-to-face, without telling them what to do, things just happen. It’s wonderful. There are all kinds of environmental, social and artistic benefits that come out of it.”
The Alternative Technology Association itself is evidence of that. It was established in 1980 and now has over 9000 members and subscribers.
From its national office, also based in Melbourne, it produces two magazines, ReNew and Sanctuary, which cover passive solar design, water conservation and renewable energy for households. Last year it launched Tankulator, a free online calculator that helps you figure out what size rainwater tank you need, and provides information on tank materials, siting, installation, filters and pumps.
As well as the group in Melbourne, there are 14 other local branches around the country (and one in New Zealand), all run by volunteer members.
“They’re all doers – they’re not complainers,” Mr Fritze says. “They’d rather get on and make the things that we need to change the way we’re living.”
If you want to glean some of their good ideas, you can visit the households open for tours today as a part of Sustainable House Day (some of them organised by the Association’s Melbourne branch). There are 60 houses on show all over the state, from 10 am until 4 pm – and it’s free.